Friday, August 22, 2014

Review: The Book of Life by Deborah Harkness

Title:  The Book of Life (All Souls Trilogy #3)
Author: Deborah Harkness
Publisher:  Viking Adult (July 15 2014)
ISBN: 9780670025596
Pages: 561 pages
How We Read It: purchased ebook
Genre: adult fiction, paranormal
Previous books in this series: A Discovery of Witches and Shadow of Night

The highly anticipated finale to the #1 New York Times bestselling trilogy that began with A Discovery of Witches

After traveling through time in Shadow of Night, the second book in Deborah Harkness’s enchanting series, historian and witch Diana Bishop and vampire scientist Matthew Clairmont return to the present to face new crises and old enemies. At Matthew’s ancestral home at Sept-Tours, they reunite with the cast of characters from A Discovery of Witches — with one significant exception. But the real threat to their future has yet to be revealed, and when it is, the search for Ashmole 782 and its missing pages takes on even more urgency. In the trilogy’s final volume, Harkness deepens her themes of power and passion, family and caring, past deeds and their present consequences. In ancestral homes and university laboratories, using ancient knowledge and modern science, from the hills of the Auvergne to the palaces of Venice and beyond, the couple at last learn what the witches discovered so many centuries ago.

With more than one million copies sold in the United States and appearing in thirty-eight foreign editions, A Discovery of Witches and Shadow of Night have landed on all of the major bestseller lists and garnered rave reviews from countless publications. Eagerly awaited by Harkness’s legion of fans, The Book of Life brings this superbly written series to a deeply satisfying close. 

Our Thoughts:

As we mentioned in our 'Countdown' post in early July, this novel topped the list of our most anticipated releases of 2014. And, as expected, it was absolute heaven to once again immerse ourselves in this magical world Deb Harkness has created and to reconnect with these beloved characters. This is one of those books (as are the previous two) that draws you in so completely you feel as though you are living the tale right alongside the characters.

Knowing that this was the final book of the trilogy, we wanted to savor every page and not rush ourselves, but even so, the writing is so exquisite and the story so captivating that the pages just flew by, and it was over much too quickly. But what a read it was! A-MAZ-ING!! We actually had to take some time to collect ourselves before we could write this review, because immediately after finishing the book we were left so completely awestruck we could manage little more than a resounding, "Wow, wow, WOW!"

There are so very many things we loved about this novel, but it would be nearly impossible to mention anything too specific without revealing spoilers, so we will do our best to restrict ourselves to 'safer' and more general commentary, including some thoughts on the trilogy as a whole.

To put it simply, this book has it ALL - mystery, adventure, magic, science, history, romance, humor, everything! - and it is written so beautifully and with such extreme intelligence that it is truly outstanding. The way in which Professor Harkness is able to weave all the threads together into such a complex and interconnected, yet utterly compelling, narrative is nothing short of incredible, and it most certainly reflects her skill as a teacher. After reading these books and watching her speak at book signing events, we found ourselves feeling quite envious of her students! Not surprisingly, being the works of a historian, all three of these books are brimming with marvelous historical details, as well as loads of clever Easter Eggs, which add even more depth and texture to the tale. Fortunately, the story is so well constructed it is perfectly satisfying even without uncovering these hidden gems; however, attempting to discover them all provides an added measure of enjoyment and interest to subsequent re-reads. It's like going on a literary treasure hunt!

Another testament to Harkness's skill as a storyteller is the level of attachment we feel to so many of her characters. We love these characters fiercely! They, too, have amazing depth and complexity. All are flawed but fascinating, multi-layered and so fully engaging, just as the books overall are, that you simply can't help but become emotionally invested. All of our main characters are back in this volume, as well as a few new faces alongside some of the favorites we met while visiting Elizabethan England in Shadow of Night. With such a large and varied cast, things could easily become confusing, but Harkness handles them all extremely well and manages to gently refresh your memory throughout the book in an understated and timely manner that never feels like a blatant info dump. This is very helpful for those who have not read the first two books recently and may need a bit of a reminder.

The Book of Life covers a lot of ground and brings the All Souls Trilogy to a brilliant and extremely satisfying conclusion. While not every single loose end is neatly tied up and delivered to the reader, Harkness covers all of the major mysteries and gives enough hints regarding most of the remaining dangling threads that readers can intuit their own conclusions quite well. Underlying the story is a subtle social commentary on segregation, prejudice, and political ambition, as well as admirable messages regarding tolerance and acceptance, both of others and of oneself. All of these aspects are very naturally integrated within the story and do not come across as high-handed in any way.

Of course, the heart of this tale is still, as always, the love story between Matthew and Diana, and their struggle against all obstacles to be together. Their relationship evolves, as do their individual personalities, but their love remains constant and unfailing.

"To every question I have ever had,
or ever will have, you are the answer."

"Before you I was nothing but dust and shadows.
You brought me to life. And I cannot survive without you."

There are many humorous moments interspersed throughout the novel that provide a bit of comic relief to offset the heavier themes and will have readers smiling and even laughing outright.

But if there is one overriding theme to this book, it would have to be the power and virtue of family, born or made, and the idea that, in the end, what is truly important is what unites us, not what separates us. And that is something that everyone can relate to, no matter what particular DNA they happen to be blessed with.

"Our family had begun with the surprising love that developed between Matthew and me. It grew because our bond was strong enough to withstand the hatred and fear of others. And it would endure because we had discovered, like the witches so many centuries ago, that a willingness to change was the secret to survival."

Thank you to Deb Harkness for creating this thoroughly enchanting world. We could spend a VERY long time here without complaint, and we wholeheartedly endorse this book as the best we have read all year. And yet, it is a bittersweet satisfaction, because we are also quite heartbroken this trilogy is at an end. We have loved every single moment of it, and it is terribly hard to say goodbye.

Thank goodness Deb has said she has many more stories to share with the world...eventually. We cannot imagine never having the joy of reading more fiction from this exceptional author, and so we will wait, as patiently as we can, for her creative well to refill and for her to delight us once again with her next 'tale to tell'. Here's hoping it happens sooner rather than later!

(No pressure, Deb, really...well, maybe just a little bit...and, by the way, we would not be opposed if said future release possibly centered around a certain lovable Gael...just sayin'.)
 Our Rating:
(Five GIANT-SIZED teacups!)

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